OPINION7 April 2020

Moving past the panic

Covid-19 Opinion UK

Research from Opinium suggests that people still want to hear from brands during the Coronavirus outbreak, but it’s about proximity, not brand purpose, writes Jack Tadman.

Tesco social distancing supermarket covid_crop

Coronavirus: it’s a global crisis with over a million confirmed cases worldwide and the rate of deaths in the UK is currently around 500 a day. And that’s terrifying.

Almost nine out of 10 UK adults are now worried about the virus, up from eight out of  10 the week before. Those are big numbers, and understandably rise for those who are older and more at risk.

With such high levels of concern, there is an understandable knock on wellbeing, with almost half saying their mental health has been impacted by Coronavirus. The top emotions being felt currently are being worried about the future ( 35%) and overwhelmed by the news ( 35%).

‘Overwhelmed’ is something that I can relate to. I feel saturated with information after watching the daily briefings, listening to experts on the news, reading articles, scrolling through Twitter and what’s more, it’s all anyone talks about when we’re not doing those things.

Compassion fatigue when bombarded with trauma is nothing new, and with almost a third of the UK saying that they’re actively beginning to avoid the news, it seems like I’m not alone in my desire to avoid thinking about Coronavirus.

Different people will have different coping mechanisms; however, the point here is that while there is a large degree of concern, people have to carry on shopping, cooking, communicating and living. Maybe because of this, a decent chunk of people ( 42%) have a prevailing sense that apart from staying at home more, not much has really changed.

Again, this is something I can relate to; the other day I was having dinner with my housemates, which is something we try to do once a month, allowing us to each show off our respective cooking prowess, and for an evening we all completely forgot that anything was different.

I’m sure many others have had similar experiences, where for a blissful moment you forget that you have to stand two metres apart from strangers, can’t go and see family, or get eggs from the supermarket because they’re always sold out by 11am (a personal blight).

It’s a confusing and contradictory situation many of us find ourselves in; our lives suddenly in a state of suspended animation: no, you can’t go to that music festival in Spain anymore, but yes, you do need to keep on working.

So, while 62% say their lives have been heavily disrupted, inevitably the shock of lockdown will begin to wear off. After all, human beings are creatures of habit, and with 70% looking for a bit of normality, we will all be going through a process to create a new normal, based around the things that are available to us, rather than the things we would like to do.

And what does this mean for brands? Well, we’ve seen many panic, either pulling their advertising campaigns and going dark or releasing CEO penned email, after CEO penned email, on how Coronavirus has impacted their business.

Are either of these a good idea? No.

Our data shows that people still want to hear from brands in sectors ranging from retail to FMCG, to finance, to entertainment and even health and beauty. But give up on spamming people with what your company is doing and instead start to find a way to make customers the hero.

Now that might sound grandiose, but the reality can be really quite simple: ultimately people are looking for a way to feel good about themselves in a bad time, whether this is going outside to clap for NHS workers, climbing aboard the self-improvement bus or spending more on things to entertain themselves (which, by the way, almost four-in-10 say we’ll do).

Examples of brands that people think have responded well according to our data include Tesco, Sainsbury’s and McDonalds, all of whom have shown decisive leadership, with action first and share-worthy comms second.

On the flip side, nicely written posts about staying inside or moving the letters of your logo apart (looking at you, Nike and Coke), aren’t cutting through and also aren’t impressing anyone. 

The cliché of actions speak lounder than words is apt in this case. However, actions can backfire if not thought through. Despite popular belief, the key watchword here isn’t brand purpose, it’s proximity.

People don’t want to hear life hacks or things to lighten the mood if your brand is in the healthcare or supermarket sector. These are essential services, regardless of whether you have a lofty mission statement or not, and as such you need to reassure and provide for customers.

On the other hand, those sectors less close to the crisis, such as health and beauty for example, have far more scope in the eyes of consumers to entertain and provide some light relief. So, get back in the saddle, yes, but also know which way you’re going.

Ultimately, if brands can be useful, truthful and yes, vocal, they can weave themselves into the new fabric of people’s lives, and those connections they make will last longer than lockdown.

Jack Tadman is research manager at Opinium